Trayvon Martin case: Is George Zimmerman being unfairly tried in media?

Conservative commentators decry a rush to judgement over George Zimmerman, but others say without the media attention there'd be no new investigation of Trayvon Martin's death.

Sanford Police Department/AP
In this image taken from video at the Sanford, Fla., Police Department, George Zimmerman, in red jacket, is escorted into the Sanford police station in handcuffs on Feb. 26, 2012, the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

Is neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman being unfairly tried on TV for shooting unarmed teen Trayvon Martin? That’s what some commentators are saying now, one month after the pair’s fatal encounter in Sanford, Fla.

Mr. Martin’s death was a shame, Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly said on the “O’Reilly Factor” Thursday, adding that circumstantial evidence indicates that Mr. Zimmerman may have jumped to conclusions and racially profiled Martin as someone up to no good.

But Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey is now investigating Martin’s death, Mr. O’Reilly said, and there’s no reason Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities should be demanding an arrest prior to the probe’s finish.

“When it comes to the pundits, I’m angry about the rush to judgment,” said O’Reilly. “When it comes to Trayvon’s parents, however, they should be cut some slack.”

O’Reilly’s fellow conservative William Bennett, the former secretary of Education, went further in an opinion piece for CNN Friday. Recent revelations have painted a more complicated picture of both Zimmerman and Martin, he wrote, with the former emerging as a part-Hispanic registered Democrat, and the latter as a teen who’d been suspended from school.

Jesse Jackson’s assertion that Martin’s death shows blacks are “under attack,” and Spike Lee’s tweeting of the wrong address for Zimmerman’s parents, forcing an innocent couple to flee their home, illustrate a deeper problem in dealing with the case, according to Mr. Bennett.

“Many people are not on an impartial hunt for justice but are exploiting this crisis for personal or political gain and claiming that it is representative of larger societal problems,” wrote Bennett.

This analysis ignores a central aspect of the Martin case, according to critics. If not for the national uproar over the manner in which Sanford police initially treated the killing, there would be no special prosecutor taking a hard look at the facts. Zimmerman might have walked away despite many inconsistencies between his story of the encounter and other evidence.

“It’s a tragedy and a shame, and justice needs to be served,” Ms. Winfrey said in a televised interview Thursday.

Charles M. Blow, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, on his Twitter feed Friday listed a number of ways in which the Zimmerman family account of what happened does not match up with what’s revealed on 911 calls and the physical layout of the scene.

Among other things, Zimmerman said Martin was walking behind houses, and coming toward him. Yet Zimmerman was in a car on the street and the houses were conjoined, making it almost impossible to see behind the houses, said Blow. Furthermore, if Zimmerman had turned to return to his car when family members say he did, he would have been inside it long before a fight could have started.

“Folks, this isn’t rocket science. This is common sense stuff. I’m not Perry Mason.... We need a jury,” tweeted Blow.

Zimmerman’s physical condition has also become an issue, as the police tape of his arrival at a station for questioning does not appear to show the broken nose and other injuries that Zimmerman’s attorney Craig Sonner says his client sustained in the encounter.

Mr. Sonner has said the video is “grainy”, and Zimmerman’s brother insisted on CNN Thursday that medical details will support Zimmerman’s story.

Yet the drip, drip of media revelations continued Friday, with the funeral director who handled Martin’s body telling CBS he saw no injuries consistent with a fight, and an anonymous source telling the New York Daily News that Zimmerman had lost a job as a security guard for being too aggressive.

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